The Mayor’s Office is set to ask the Metro Council to green-light a new, four-year contract to operate the city-parish’s red light cameras, though at least one council member has already raised concerns over the length and terms of the proposed agreement.
The proposal seeks to extend the city-parish’s contract with Verra Mobility, a private company which owns the cameras, until December 2023, a departure from the one-year agreement approved by the Metro Council in January.
Darryl Gissel, the city-parish’s chief administrative officer, said that with the longer contract, Verra Mobility has agreed to replace the existing cameras with more up-to-date equipment that would allow police officers to monitor live feeds at the forthcoming Real Time Crime Center.
Currently, the footage is temporarily stored by Verra Mobility and is not directly or immediately accessible to law enforcement, Gissel said. He emphasized that this renewal is a public safety issue.
“We just think we don’t have the police manpower to send officers out there to do this,” Gissell said. The city-parish currently has 24 cameras stationed across 16 intersections.
Red light cameras will remain in Baton Rouge for at least one more year while the Metro Council considers disbanding the program.
Councilman Matt Watson, however, said he is skeptical that the program has led to safer outcomes for drivers. He added that he opposes the idea of a four-year contract, and instead advocates a year-by-year agreement to allow the Metro Council regular oversight opportunities.
“I have an overwhelming wave of people telling me to vote no against the renewal of this camera system,” he said, pointing to a flurry of comments left on his Facebook page in response to the proposal.
Watson said many of his constituents would prefer it if police officers handed out the tickets in-person instead of relying on the cameras, though Gissell said that would be a safety hazard for law enforcement and would likely lead to traffic pile-ups across the city.
“Think of College Drive and I-10. I mean, if you had a cop sitting there trying to stop drivers at a red light you would get nothing done,” he said. “It’d come to a standstill.”
Under the current agreement, the city-parish gets about 73% of the revenue from the tickets. The rest goes to Verra Mobility. The new contract implements a sliding scale. As more tickets are successfully collected, the city-parish receives a higher percentage of the revenue — up to 85% per ticket.
The red light camera program has generated significant revenue: $3 million annually from 2016 to 2018 and $3.5 million in 2019.
Watson said he could see himself supporting the program if the revenue from the tickets were to go toward pay raises for law enforcement.
The Metro Council is set to vote on the measure at its Nov. 13 meeting.